EU referendum

Tomorrow is the final day voters can register to vote in the European Referendum. We can make amends for not voting in a General Election after five years but once we leave the EU, that’s it. There’s no going back. So we really must register to vote. You can go online on your mobile and do it. If you can check Facebook you can definitely register to vote. Please register to vote, and then vote!

To be honest, I can see why a lot of people wouldn’t bother voting because the whole thing is bloody confusing, and the general feeling is that (as is always the case for those who abstain) is that we are f*cked either way. However, we are making a decision not just based on our own circumstances but on our children and their children. So, to reiterate, PLEASE REGISTER to vote. And then go and vote! It doesn’t make you a geek, it makes you the kind of person your ancestors who lived through/fought in the Great Wars would be proud of.

We are only voting in this referendum because of the Conservative Party, and that annoys me. We aren’t doing it for the best interests of this country. I am a left-wing voter. I detest everything Conservatives stand for, but that’s another story for another day. What I detest even more is the nationalist faction of the Tory party and UKIP, which are pretty much the same thing, who are coming out with the most polemical rhetoric, and a lot of it is ill-informed and completely irrational. Generally it tends to appeal to the older generation/working class/less well-educated who believe in the Great Britain of old; who dislike people who are different to them, who dislike diversity and fear multiculturalism, who believe that things were better the way they used to be. They are being fed this guff by Boris Johnson, who is the biggest fraud in British politics. It is well known in political circles that Boris is pro-Europe. The man is a hotch-potch of ethnicities – Turkish included. So how can he look at a poster on a bus stop which says (completely wrongly, of course) that to remain in Europe is a passport for millions of Turks to come here? If it’s alright for his ancestors to do so, why can’t others? The man is so desperate to become Prime Minister that he would literally denigrate his grandmother to achieve his aims. So would anyone fall for his bullshit?

Anyway, I am voting based on how this would affect me and my offspring, and I vote to REMAIN. I am not going to go into every reason why I believe we are better placed in the EU – there are loads of benefits for staying in, there are loads of benefits for opting out. But the simple fact is that we just DO NOT KNOW what will happen in the event of a Brexit, and what we DO know – based on hard facts – simply spells disaster. Have a look at the Economist online and see what the intelligent people are saying about all of this – not the politicians’ garber.

So what about me? First off – I’m the son of an immigrant! But I also work in the Higher Education space, and I speak with Chairmen/women and Vice-Chancellors of major universities on a daily basis. My work depends on bringing in world-class talent from all over the world, who contribute to making our universities the multi-billion industry engines of growth that they are. It would be terrible if we left the EU for George if our universities lost their place in the global HE system, so why would I put his prospects at risk? Last year I dated a Latvian girl, and I learnt about Latvian culture and heritage through meeting her family and friends. I quite like seeing people from different cultures living around me, because I get to eat different foods, experience new things, and I quite enjoy the inspiration to go visit other countries. The NHS – it simply could not function without immigrants. In the hands of an unbridled Tory government the NHS would be dismantled in a shot, so why would I take this risk? Jobs – some immigrants come here and provide jobs for other people, some immigrants do the jobs people here think are beneath them, and if you feel under threat by an immigrant coming here driving down your wages in a race to the bottom, then it’s surely there’s no better motivation to get promoted and aspire for better things? Housing – not an immigration problem. We simply don’t build enough houses and the planning system in this country is beyond a joke. Sure, the houses prices might drop, making it more affordable, but we don’t know the economic effects of Brexit and who’s to say wages won’t fall? On the economy, free trade etc – well listen, there’s people far better qualified than me saying it’s better to stay in. We are one of the world’s richest countries, why would you put this at risk for some unknown eventuality in the case of Brexit? Destroying this would be nothing short of criminal for our children’s futures. The money we pay to the EU – there’s tons of evidence to suggest we get a lot back. Finally, defence. It’s much safer to be in the EU than out of it. A terrorist can be of any origin, including British.

I am not saying the EU doesn’t need reforming. It’s a horrible, bureaucratic mess and having studied EU law as part of my degree, it’s so boring and so complicated. But it is better to try and reform that from the inside than come out of it and then realise we’ve lost what was a very good thing for us and our descendants. What actually frightens me more is living in a country with fascists who hate any other language being spoken other than English and believe that Britain can go back to the “days of old”! I look forward rather than backwards. I am aspirational and not apathetic. I vote to remain in the EU, and I don’t want my future being in the hands of older people who wear rose-tinted spectacles because the younger voter couldn’t be bothered to vote. So register and then get voting! #remain

The death of my mother

Forgive the tone of this message but I am on my own for the first time in well over a month, so I am taking fingertips to keyboard in a process of complete purgation.

I have never suffered from depression (I don’t think so anyway) but if the sensation can be described in the following way: – where the world is grey – like you’re in a film which alternates to the dark grey tones to emphasise the bleakness of the message in the movie; if it’s where people you love around you aren’t the same as they used to be; almost intangibly, like a little piece of them has died too; when you distinctly remember the exact moment when the colour drained from their faces –  when the smile that once represented true happiness and an optimistic outlook is suddenly replaced by a forced smile which says “I am just doing ok”, where their shoulders look like a ton-weight has been placed upon them, and, finally, if you visualise the experience as looking at a balloon which has deflated, wondering when you can muster the strength to blow it back up again, then I am pretty sure this could be it. And it’s a true test of character, I tell you.

Many things trigger this sensation. Sometimes it is looking at pictures of mam when she was young, or looking at her picture from the funeral with George pointing and saying “Nanny Bate”, and then I realise I’m doing such a thing to reflect on a person who we buried a month ago today, with the unforgettable memory of watching my 2.5 year old throwing roses onto her coffin, not really understanding why he is doing so.

Tonight this sensation was triggered by listening to a voicemail I’ve saved by my mother which says “she loves me too son” in response to a call to her previously, which then led me to view a couple of videos of George where you can hear her voice clearly, which then made me spend so long browsing her Facebook or her Twitter, looking for evidence of where she laughed, cried and despaired when she was still here. Looking at the comments on my pictures, knowing those pictures kept her going.

In turn, this temporarily makes me forget she’s gone. That I can expect to receive a call on my phone saying “Mammy”, or that I can still send her an inane WhatsApp of George, that I can expect to see her shuffle in in her own imitable way in the kitchen when I get back home, that I can expect to see a like on Facebook followed by a loud exclamation of the joy she got from looking from pictures of her grandkids. That I still reach to the iPad when George is in the bath so I can show Mam on Skype. That she will give me a stern word about something when I’ve done something wrong. That I can still rely on her to be my moral compass, the check and balance of my behaviour, the source of my moral fibre – reflecting back to when the regular words she used to utter: “watch what you’re doing, and not too late” or “if a girl says no, she means no” when I was a young man going out for the first time. Or that I can still rely on her to be proud of me in everything that I do. Or that I realise that she was the glue that held a lot of things together.

Then, when I wake out of this dream, I realise she isn’t here anymore. I replay the awful moment I found out she took ill and I recall the horrible experiences I felt in that week between her death and the funeral. Sometimes it feels like I am watching that entire week outside of my own body looking in, wondering when the reality of it all will set in. It all seems terribly unfair. I remember watching my little brother and father in ways I have never seen before and wish that all those things never happened. But they did. It’s a natural consequence of life, and everything must go through it.

And when it does happen to someone you love, in ways you didn’t wish upon anyone, then if there are things that you did or did not do before someone’s death regardless of timing, then this generates the most intense feeling of what I consider to be the most destructive emotional force I have ever felt in my entire life. Guilt.

For me this is the guilt of not returning her calls, or not going into her bedroom when she asked for company, or not being able to help when I remember her face when she burst into tears frustrated and in severe pain. The guilt which makes me think it was me that set the chain of events which led to her taking ill. Or the terrible guilt which makes me feel especially awful because I never understood the depths to which my mam felt following the loss of her brother who she looked after growing up. She was never the same person after that day in 2007 and I wish I could have helped to do avoid what was to come. I should have done so much but I didn’t.

This depressive feeling intensified after the 13th January this year and leads me to write this a month after her funeral. This is the evening that mam was supposed to be at the Adam Lambert/Queen concert. The interaction I have had with the “Glamily” – her friends on social media – has been a genuine source of comfort over these last few weeks and this built up to mine and my brother’s attendance on Adam’s guest list. We had a fucking great time. Our Liam was laughing and singing and that made me feel happy again. But once that gig was over the depression truly set in. And it leads me to overthink – to take a source of positivity and look for the negatives. Why I clammed up and couldn’t get my words out to my mam’s idol’s publicist when she asked what message Adam should put on her t-shirt, when people around thought we’d meet him. It makes me think I should have asked to do so, and it made me think mam would be disappointed in me for not doing so. And in overcoming these feelings it means going to a concert again – the Leeds concert tomorrow night – to get that feeling once again that mam is around us, despite the fact that the post-concert depression will kick in once again. And it means acting irrationally looking for every possible way of trying to meet with her idol again because it is what mam would have wanted. Truly odd behaviour looked outside of the prism of the grief process.

I know this feeling will weaken in its strength over time. Everyone has to deal with bereavement. I know that life does go on and more importantly, I know that my job here is to do what my mam would want me to do – look after George and give him the best upbringing I possibly can. But for now, feeling this way seems to be the least I can do given that my mother is no longer within us.

Happy New Year!

In 2012 I watched a very important person in my life enter the world. In late 2014, my world turned around when I watched another very important person leave it. Here is a picture of one leaving flowers for the other; George’s dearest ‘Nanny’. Her flowers are still bright and full. Fittingly, her final resting place sees her surrounded by children, which as unfair and heartbreaking as it is, she will be pleased that she is sleeping among young angels who need a guiding hand – alongside her younger brother who she now rests with.

2014 has finished in the most difficult circumstances but the challenge is looking forward to 2015 with renewed optimism. Whilst I still have many regrets about not appreciating what I had when mam was here, it would be dishonourable to wallow in negativity. In any case, I have now realised what – and who – the most important things and people are in my life. I will now focus on those whilst I can, knowing that life is too short and unpredictable to do anything else. In remembrance, I want to continue to make my mam as proud from heaven as I did when she was here on earth. work hard to avoid painful regrets in the future, and look after all she cared for down here – all with a smile on my face.
So, with that in mind, I wish you all the best, family and friends. Here’s to another year, and I hope you fill it as exactly how you wish. Happy New Year!

(Mam, Adam Lambert and Queen will be on the telly for NYE, and I will think of you exactly how should have been when they are on, sat in your room singing along with a bottle of wine, waiting in anticipation for the phone call at midnight from me.) x

Eulogy to my Mother, Carol L. Bate. 13th June 1964 – 11th December 2014

ST JAMES CHURCH
ROSSMERE WAY
HARTLEPOOL
FRIDAY 19TH DECEMBER 10AM
SERVICE CONDUCTED BY FATHER STEPHEN LOCKE
Accompaniments:
– I’ll Remember You, Elvis Presley
– Nirvana, Adam Lambert
– Green Green Grass of Home, Tom Jones

When I think about my mam I think about a warm, caring person with a beautiful smile. She was one of the happiest people I have ever known and I was proud to call her my mother. She was only 20 when she gave birth to me, she was young, she had little but she gave me everything. To mam, nothing was about material things at all; happiness was derived from spending time with people she loved. In my early years, she shared a house with my precious Aunty Karen and her four children; we were close enough to call each other brother and sister and Karen was my second mum. I have nothing but the happiest memories of growing up with them all. Karen was there for my mother for 35 years and was there until her last moment; true friends for life.

The greatest gift a woman can give is the beautiful gift of life and mam lived for her children. She always spoke about how proud she was of her boys. When I went back to college mam was there at the end to help me celebrate my academic achievements. She told me she was proud of me all the time, making something of myself, and I was glad to make her proud. She was proud I managed to travel South East Asia – and somewhat bemused – if not surprised – when my lackadaisiness resulted in a broken elbow and an operation to remove my appendix! People here may know that my brother and I were quite different in the behavioural stakes (!) and it was fair to say I was the quiet one! Liam was more “challenging” shall we say! But mam and Liam were like two peas in a pod; fierce, passionate and unwavering in their determination to do or say what they wanted. she told us only last Saturday that she was proud of us and we will do everything they can to make her proud until we meet again in heaven. I will look after Liam as much as he will for me. Our families will grow closer from this day on.

Stephen was her world; he is mine and Liam’s father and a rock to us both. She was utterly proud when he achieved his dream of becoming a police officer and I know she will want my brother and I to look out for him as much as he will for us. They were inseparable for over a quarter of a century and mum will be an Angel, watching out for her dearly beloved as he moves on with his life. He will always be my father in every sense of the word and my mam will always be his partner. She loved him dearly and we will stick together.

Mum lived for her grandchildren and it is the single most important reason me and my brother made my mother proud. She adored George and Fallon and whilst in recent ill health she would loved to have seen them more. Despite having nothing she would give her grandchildren things what they needed. But more than that, she gave them the gift of love. A kiss and a cuddle from nanny is all that matters and she had plenty of those in abundance. She nannied Harrison and Jack too when they were kids; and it was when I seen mum the happiest, looking after children. To that end, working as a teaching assistant in West Park School for an autistic child called Charlie showed just how much my mum loved children. Our children will grow older each day and everyday they will be reminded of Nanny Bate.

If Liam and I made her proud, Vicky and Danielle, the women who bore our children, were equally important. She knew that her most important job in life was being a mother and she loved the women who are mothers of our children. She was a confidante to George’s mum, and a source of strength when she needed it most. When Danille and I were discussing mum’s deadpan sense of humour, she was recalled a time when she met her for the first time in the White Hart pub for a pub lunch. mum was telling us about her infatuation with Tom Jones and she regaled about the time she went to see him in concert. She told us that when Tom was singing a classic to the audience in Newcastle, he was asking the audience to sing the chorus along with him, no doubt so he could take a break given his geriatric condition. But whilst others around her sang back to Sir Tom, she said “I am paying to listen to you sing, so you f*ckin sing it!” Like most times she made us laugh it was the way she said it that had us in stitches. Vicky lived with my mum for about 18 months has been “mammy number 2” for 7 years. She will be proud that Liam has chosen a wonderful woman to spend the rest of his life with and she will be watching over us all in heaven.

There’s a few lads here today who I have known for most of my life; and I just want to read a few words my friend Danny Rowbotham said on Facebook when I posted the news: – mum was “such a lovely, funny, kind and strong woman” whilst Neil Stamper said mum was part of “many happy memories”. Others I grew up with on Throston Grange Estate passed their condolences and told me how lovely my mam was. She loved being interested in other people and she always asked after the lads and their mams. She was proud of my childhood friends who had become family men themselves and she would be proud of the lovely words people in her community have said about her.

Talking about community, I was stunned to learn that mum was an avid twitter user who followed her musical idol Adam Lambert online. Last week I thought I would write to him on twitter to tell him of my mums passing and within a couple of hours my message had been shared by mums online community in their hundreds and thousands; I was so heart-warmed to learn that she had connected with people from all over the world. People wrote to me to say that mum was a great person, a confidante, a source of help and comfort; all in all, a great friend. They have promised to hold her in their thoughts forever more and it makes my heart beam with pride that she was so well thought of both here and abroad. Within 5 hours Adam Lambert, her hero with nearly 2.5m followers, had posted a message of condolence about my mum; she would be jumping for joy in heaven she’d been tweeted. I was going to go to Newcastle Arena with mum only next month, she was close to seeing Adam after 5 years of solid devotion and being genuinely one of his biggest fans. It breaks my heart she never got to see him. However me and Liam were given two tickets by Adam to attend the concert in January and we will rock all night on behalf of my mother.

I know I have been talking a while but I just want to finish by saying a few words about the horrendous last week. Mum was housebound with illness recently but it felt like things were improving. Prior to her passing mum had spent the Saturday with her grandchildren at Fallon’s first birthday party; two days before that she had George over for three days and then before that she had tea at Liam and Vicky’s playing with Fallon. It’s gut-wrenching to think that her life was cut short as things were improving but on the other hand we take comfort that she had spent her last days surrounded by the people she loved doing things she always wanted to do.

On the day that Mam passed we arrived at hospital in the morning as she was fighting for her life. The sky was grey and full of snow; it was bitterly cold and sleeting as we arrived. Shortly after she died, I looked outside and seen that the sky had turned a stunning blue. It was so bright and sunny and I truly believe that as mum passed it was her way of saying that everything was ok and she was happy in Heaven, having embraced her beloved Arthur and her cherished mother; we should not sit here in glum darkness but look to a bright and fulfilling future. It is this thought that will guide me through the rest of my days; that my mum will guide me in death as she did in life. We will always love you mam. Goodnight and sleep tight. xx

Nelson Mandela

In April this year, Louise Mensch wrote: “Pygmies of the left so predictably embarrassing yourselves, know this: not a one of your leaders will ever be globally mourned like her.” She was, of course, referring to a woman who divided opinion, an entire country, and promoted grotesque inequality; and a woman, who, in fact, labelled Nelson Mandela a terrorist. 

Yet Nelson Mandela is the man that did much more than promote; but lived, breathed and embodied equality, respect, courage, tenacity, drive, determination, humility, grace, peace, and kindness. One of the greatest statesman to have ever lived, he is one of a handful of people who was genuinely loved by almost everyone on the planet. His portrait is one of the most iconic images of the 20th Century and his profound legacy will live on long after. He was the soul and heartbeat of an entire nation.

At the time, I didn’t really understand anything about his release from prison, but I do remember it, just like I remember the fall of the Berlin Wall. Over time, I learned about what he did, what he stood for and what he fought against. I will make sure my son George learns about his life, about his struggle and about his legacy, but more importantly, I hope that through me he will take inspiration from the principles by which Mandela lived his life. And he will be a greater person for it.

There are many great sayings attributed to him, but my personal favourite is this: “‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Thank you for being part of this world. RIP.

Lou Reed

I’ve always had an interpersonal connection with music, right from my earliest days as a young boy in the 1980s, where I remember vividly creative videos like Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel, and Money for Nothing by Dire Straits. Music’s always been part of my life and it always will be. Music is a journey that sets particular checkpoints through time. Records attach themselves intuitively to new experiences. I see music as an iterative, fluid process, and each artist that lives and breathes today is the embodiment of another that lived yesterday.

This can be manifested in the most crass of ways: Oasis and The Beatles, for instance. But I also remember listening to Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Sonic Youth, Green Day, the Pixies, Bowie, Blondie, The Ramones, and the New York Dolls. Discovering each of those artists was a breathtaking experience on its own terms. Independent music that broke new ground and brought new meaning to the word “alternative.” And what brought all of those together, where those journeys almost always led to, was the Velvet Underground.

It is safe to say that Punk, Glam, Alternative Rock and Indie owe a huge amount of gratitude to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, for the innovative music that they produced and the space they created that allowed others to flourish. Yet they did it when the world around them did not appreciate them. Brian Eno said “The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band”. They weren’t just any band. It was pretty much every alternative band that have ever lived since.

In 1967 the band produced a record, The Velvet Underground and Nico (with the iconic Warhol banana) that even to this day still has a profound impact on the music industry – Radiohead is just one of the contemporary bands that have ancestral roots in Lou Reed’s music. And the album itself is just an absolute dream to listen to. The psychedelic Sunday Morning; the impossible love described in Pale Blue Eyes, and the simply brilliant Heroin which changes tempo to reflect the ‘hit’ of the drug described in the song; utterly majestic stuff that is unparalleled and will always be.

Lou Reed was an enigmatic, brilliantly talented, supremely cool, and instinctively humble guy who successfully blended high art with innovative music and poetic lyrics and I for one am deeply saddened he’s been taken away from us. Music is a huge part of my life and by proxy, Lou Reed was too. One in a million, Sir. There’s not many like you left.

Mx

Sir Alex Ferguson

For people of a certain age like me who follow football, the last few weeks have been a monumental time of tumult. Sir Alex Ferguson, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, and Michael Owen have announced their retirements bringing the curtain down on the careers of a particular generation that we have literally grown up with.

The biggest news is clearly about Ferguson. I am 30 years old and I know nothing other than Sir Alex Ferguson winning trophies at Manchester United. Their dominance is as accepted as the Queen being Head of State. It’s going to be incredibly strange seeing someone else walk to the dugout at Old Trafford, because for all of the change that has gone on in the last thirty years, for all the different players that have walked the hallowed turf, the constant genius of Ferguson has perpetuated the glory at one of the world’s most venerable clubs.

 Within this, he has literally changed the social fabric of the nation; being right at the heart of the cultural revolution that began 6 years after his appointment, with the vast influx of money coming from the commercialisation of our national sport and bringing in the most exciting footballers in brand new, world-class stadiums. Some of the very best played for Sir Alex.

I was a young boy when he first started his tremendous haul in the early 90s and pretty much every young lad in my school back then supported Liverpool or Manchester United; of course the young pretenders were the latter, with Liverpool losing their place at the top of British football over time to United. I feel nothing but blessed that I grew up in this era; seeing the likes of Cantona, Sheringham, Yorke, Solskjaer, Butt, Neville, Schmeichel, Keane ,Stam, Giggs, and the best player I’ve ever seen – Ronaldo. Not to mention Beckham scoring the fabulous goal against Wimbledon. In a time when, in the absence of the digital age we’re in now, BBC1 Match of the Day really was the highlight of the week, showing the very best and most exciting brand of football.

 My club, Newcastle United, were real challengers back in the early to mid-nineties and some of the most iconic players played for us – my favourite being the indomitably graceful winger, David Ginola. He was the reason why I played winger for my youth team (although I always wished I was Alan Shearer, though I never had the ability play centre forward!).  I must add that as a Newcastle supporter, Steve Harper has been with the club for 19 years and has been nothing but a loyal servant to the club. There is much debate around whether that loyalty helped his career, but for the time being, I would prefer to ignore the pros and cons of this. Such loyalty is rare these days, and it’s right that his long tenure is recognised a huge positive.

It is also right that all of the above are lauded appropriately. They have been at the very top of their game in a time when the English league became the very best in the world. It is unbelievable to think that the likes of Swindon, Oldham Athletic and Sheff Utd were in the same league as Ferguson and Utd in 1993. The football world has changed exponentially since then, and there is a lot to be said about the negative impact of money in football on some of the most prestigious names in the game. But for the time being, it is right that we celebrate Ferguson being the most incredible mainstay at one of the biggest brands in world football. In the words of Andy Gray – take a bow, Sir Alex!